You couldn’t swing a dead cat this year and not end up hitting a fantastic new comic. This is a good thing! (Unless you’re a dead cat.) At the same time, though, 2017 wasn’t without its moments of comics chicanery and utter wackness. Now’s as good a time as any to look back and reflect on what sort of year comics had in 2017.
Unlike last year, where we only listed the comics moments we remembered most fondly, we’re switching things up and making a point of highlighting some of the moments that rubbed us the wrong way. Comics are an art form, people. If they’re not making feel you feel something one way or the other, what’s the point?
Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ work on Mister Miracle is, well, miraculous in many ways—but especially in structure, and the way it plays with the panelling of a page to tie into themes and emotions the reader should be feeling as they read. One sublime example of this, in a comic that was really sublime all around, comes in the climax of Mister Miracle #1’s first issue. It slowly but surely builds up the threat and presence of Darkseid in Scott Free’s life (and the Fourth World at large) with a simple, chilling image: A black frame printed with the words “Darkseid is.” Early on, as Scott is more focused on his fragile mental state, it’ll appear as a single frame on a page, a blinking interruption of the current story.
As the brewing war between Darkseid and New Genesis lingers in the background of the issue, it appears more and more, choking the structure of each page, overwhelming it. By the climax of the issue, when Scott learns that Darkseid has invaded his birthworld and killed his father, it becomes total: A single, all-black page, occupied only by the words “Darkseid is,” as the threat consumes Scott’s fractured thoughts. It’s a remarkably clever way of using the structure of a comic, and used to haunting effect.
Creative Team: Tom King, Mitch Gerads
Black Bolt is a comic filled with moments of deep, emotional introspection and profound loneliness, but there are also more than few jokes scattered throughout the series that’ll make you laugh your ass off. Case in point—after Crusher “The Absorbing Man” Creel befriends Black Bolt in the Inhuman Space Prison, the former criminal learns that the Inhuman king’s full name is Blackagar Boltagon... and then has a wholly appropriate response.
Creative Team: Saladin Ahmed, Christian Ward
The first lightsaber we see Darth Vader wield in his latest ongoing series is not the one we will see him menace our heroes with in A New Hope, but it is nonetheless the first Sith blade he makes. He takes a kyber crystal from the lightsaber of a fallen Jedi, and must corrupt it with the dark side to “bleed” it, thus creating a crimson jewel. The process is not as easy as Vader expects. Instead, the crystal shows Vader an alternate path to his life, one where he refuses to corrupt the crystal and instead turns to the light side. He uses the blade to bring the Emperor down and eventually reunites with Obi-Wan in contemplative grief. It’s tragic because we know it’s a path that Vader will never take, making the moment he refuses the crystal’s vision and painfully, angrily corrupts it all the more strikingly grim. The anguish is of Vader’s own choosing, forging a deep, scarlet blade in the process, and truly completing his path to the Dark Side.
Creative Team: Charles Soule, Giuseppe Camuncoli
Though it’s had its fair share of superhero action, the real big bad looming in Iceman’s shadow has always been Bobby’s coming out to his parents. In one way or another, Bobby had come out to them previously, but never with a finality and assertiveness that made it clear that Bobby was ready to live as an openly gay man. Recently, though (and with his younger, time-displaced, teenaged self in tow) Bobby confronted his parents about their small mindedness and homophobia and put his foot down in a way that feels significant. For the first time in a long time, Bobby felt like an adult who was ready to begin a new chapter of his life—one that we’re interesting in following.
Creative Team: Sina Grace, Robert Gill, Rachelle Rosenberg
Spy Seal is a delectably absurd comic. But it’s also incredibly earnest despite that absurdity, which just makes it all the more endearing. The moment it won our hearts came during the first issue’s wonderfully zany dance scene. Our hero, eventual spy (and current seal) Malcolm, finds himself watching a silly interpretative dance performance at a local art gallery, joined by a mysterious foreign rabbit—only for, mid-pose, the two wolves performing the dance to pull out pistols and open fire at a famous attending dignitary, flinging the bemusing scene into total chaos. It’s the catalyzing moment that thrusts Malcolm into his adventure, but it’s an encapsulating example of what makes Spy Seal work: At one moment, earnest silliness, the next, bonkers spy-fi goodness.
Creative Team: Rich Tomasso
DC’s Dark Nights: Metal has had its ups and downs, but no moment in the event has been quite a shocking as The Batman Who Laughs revealing how its titular fusion of Batman and the Joker came to be. After being infected with Joker toxin, Bruce quickly begins to descend into what he assumes will be the Joker’s madness, but the chemicals actually end up freeing his mind in the end. Freedom, in this case, is from morality, responsibility, and self-control—the things that have always defined Batman’s character. That fundamental break in his psyche invigorates Batman. Knowing that his family will eventually realize that something about him has changed for the worse, Batman does the only sensible thing: He kills them before they can become a problem. It’s a horrific, shocking twist of events that gives the Batman Who Laughs a completely different dimension of evil and makes him one of Batman’s most interesting villains ever.
Creative Team: James Tynion IV, Riley Rossmo
“Supreme,” a storyline that’s been one of the best balances between Matt Murdock’s superheroic and legal sides in years, has also struck at the legal place of superheroes in Marvel’s “real” society. It’s a premise that’s perfect for Matt Murdock as a character… but courtroom battles aren’t exactly the most exciting arena for a superhero comic. Unless you’re the excellent Daredevil #25, that is, which turned Matt’s argument to the Justices of the Supreme Court from a heavy dialogue into a trippy, mental battlefield where legal arguments land like flurries of blows, and for every “attack” Matt dodges, another withering counterpoint brings him to his knees. It’s a fun, superheroic way to portray the legal drubbing Matt finds himself in, in a way that only works for a character like Daredevil.
Creative Team: Charles Soule, Alec Morgan, Matt Milla
Though they’re two wildly different kinds of hunters, Batman and Elmer Fudd have more than a bit in common when it comes to their respective approaches to catching prey. They’re both relentless, tenacious, and singularly focused on their targets, but for all of their dedication to the hunt, no matter how many times they each may catch their wascally prey, Bugs and the Joker always escape eventually.
In pitting its two titular heroes against one another, Batman/Elmer Fudd highlights the innate absurdity of the Dark Knight’s one-man war against the world’s criminals and just how ferociously violent a man Fudd actually is. The contrast between the two characters and their backgrounds infuses the entire book with a sort of dreamy surreality. Classic Looney Tunes characters are reimagined as gritty Gothamites, while Batman’s fighting style is played up for cartoonish camp. All of this comes to a head during a fantastically choreographed fight sequence set in an apartment building where Fudd and Batman throw down.
Creative Team: Tom King, Byron Vaughns, Lee Weeks
Dialogue-heavy scenes in comics—especially superhero comics—can be hard. But Spectacular Spider-Man #6 gives its whole issue to a raw, brutal discussion between Spider-Man and one of his oldest nemeses, J. Jonah Jameson. What starts out as a cocky Jonah trying to corner his long-hated menace becomes a stunning emotional debate about why Peter Parker does what he does, and the lives his actions can affect in positive and negative ways. It’s dramatic and at times gut-wrenching to see these two men—especially Jonah, who’s often little more than the angry butt of a joke—bare their souls to each other, but its climax, which sees Peter Parker share his greatest secret with his most outspoken foe (for the first time since it was undone by “One More Day”), is a cathartic release. Spectacular Spider-Man #6 can stand alone as one of the best enclosed Spider-Man stories Marvel’s done in a long, long time.
Creative Team: Chip Zdarsky, Michael Walsh, Ian Herring
DC’s been absolutely knocking it out of the park with its recent crossover comics that pair of some of the publisher’s most iconic characters with heroes and villains from other companies. In one way or another, most of these crossover books have found a way to create a unique fusion of the worlds their respective characters come from, but in Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica, Gotham and Riverdale are straight-up neighbor cities that share some valuable wetlands.
Gotham and Riverdale, Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica unsubtly suggests, are both cities stuck in their ways—ways that seem immediately odd to people not from there. The book drives this point home by introducing its two sets of queen bees and having them, at first, not really know what to make of each another. Betty and Veronica know of Harley and Ivy, but the idea that anyone would ever actually dress up like the Gotham villains and leave the house in broad daylight is preposterous to them. Similarly, Harley and Ivy remember what it was like to be teenagers, but neither woman can really see that as small as they may think Riverdale High is, the school essentially is Betty and Veronica’s Gotham, where they call the shots. Naturally, the misunderstandings and mixups inevitably lead to all four women accidentally switching bodies with one another. Naturally.
Creative Team: Marc Andreyko, Paul Dini, Laura Braga
Secret Empire took far too long to start giving its beleaguered heroes some wins, choosing to focus on the Hydra-leading Steve Rogers relentlessly kicking their asses time and time again instead. But in a rare bit of light fun from the otherwise maudlin series, our heroes are given a chance to fight back against Steve’s Cosmic-cube-powered rule in the form of their own cube fragment—not won in a huge battle or stolen during an elaborately planned heist, but instead vomited into their hands, thanks to the return of an Inhuman jokingly named Barf, who can imagine objects in his mind and then “summon” them by hurling them out. Introduced in a tiny role months beforehand in Secret Empire #0, Barf’s vital importance to Secret Empire’s climax is the sort of comic absurdity the series should’ve delved into more often, instead of aggrandizing Captain America’s fascist rule.
Creative Team: Nick Spencer, Jesus Saiz, Joe Bennett, Joe Pimentel, Rachelle Rosenberg
As fantastic as the television show is, the ongoing Steven Universe comic book doesn’t get enough credit for being equally fantastic. Though the series primarily focuses on Steven and the Crystal Gems hanging out and relaxing during their downtime, it also manages to capture the voice and essence of the show’s message about acceptance and diversity in a truly thoughtful way.
While trying to sneak into a movie that neither of them is old enough to see without an adult, Steven and Connie fuse into Stevonnie and end up bumping into Kiki Pizza, who admits that she’s been putting off buying a dress for an upcoming prom. Inspired, Stevonnie asks if they can accompany Kiki on her shopping trip, and as the teens see how much fun they’re having together, Kiki ultimately decides to invite Stevonnie as her date.
Given the nature of Stevonnie’s fusion, the comic reads a lot like a story about a genderfluid teen being asked out on a date by a good friend who’s initially unsure of her feelings about them. As the comic unfolds, Stevonnie navigates the complicated, but completely normal, waters of performing their gender identity in public spaces for people who don’t really know who they are while Kiki struggles to understand why her date isn’t exactly comfortable. It’s a thoughtful, charming comic that fits right into the Steven Universe mythos, and it’s exactly the sort of story you’ve come to expect from the folks living in Beach City.
Creative Team: Melanie Gillman, Katy Farina, Whitney Cogar
The private lives of superheroes will never not be a fascinating avenue to explore, both in serious and silly ways. Mighty Captain Marvel definitely leans on the silly, as She-Hulk tries to lift the spirits of a down-in-the-dumps Captain Marvel with some romantic action—leading to Jen introducing Carol to the Marvelverse’s answer to Tinder, Cloak and Dater (which in and of itself is a fantastic app name). It goes as poorly as Carol (or frankly anyone) might expect a dumpster dive into hookup apps would go, as her results include the likes of the Odinson (“an Asgardian Love God”), Steve Rogers (“loves swing dancing and drive-in movies”), and even Tony Stark (who was kinda-sorta a hologram at the time). It plays over a wonderfully framed splash page of Jen and Carol wandering around giant phones covered in dating profiles, and it’s a delightful bit of fun.
Creative Team: Margaret Stohl, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, Erick Arciniega
People of color have always been a part of comics culture from the very beginning, both as consumers and characters. But as the comics industry went through multiple shifts and pivots, and Golden Age heroes of color like Ace Harlem, Lion Man, and the Hep Chicks disappeared, a narrative began to develop that these classic, non-white characters had simply never existed.
In this year’s The Shadow Hero, though, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew pulled the Green Turtle—the very first Chinese American Superhero, whose adventures were published back in the 1940s—into a present to remind the world that heroes of color are an important and fascinating part of comics history. It’s a simple, but thoughtful update to the classic Green Turtle comics by Chinese American cartoonist Chu F. Hing. In Hing’s original series, the Green Turtle was an unnamed, unnamed vigilante, but in The Shadow Hero, we finally see that the hero is of Chinese descent, the way that Hing initially intended before being censored by his editors as Blazing Comics.
Creative Team: Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
After months of controversy about the then-upcoming Secret Empire and its approach to turning Captain America into the head of Hydra, Marvel was forced to release a hasty statement through ABC News on the eve of the first proper issue of the series’ release—promising fans that if they stuck with the series, Captain America would eventually be redeemed in a logical, understanding manner. Fans were already unsure how Steve Rogers would be brought back after his stint leading a fascist dictatorship, and they were tested even further with one of the event’s lowest points: Steve Rogers, speaking to the now Hydra-controlled US, orders the public execution of his one-time friend Rick Jones, while Hydra levels the city of Las Vegas for housing suspected superhero dissidents. The bombing kills untold swathes of civilians, going far beyond anything the “evil” Steve had done up to that point, turning the former hero into a shocking monstrosity. If Steve can be complicit in such horrors, how could he ever be redeemed in a satisfying manner? Secret Empire might end with Steve Rogers restored to his heroic self, but Las Vegas still lies in ruins, a morbid, constant reminder of what the event did to the character—and what the character did to people.
Creative Team: Nick Spencer, Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, Matthew Wilson
A satisfying conclusion to Secret Empire after almost a year of controversy would’ve been miraculous. Instead, it ended with a whimper, a completely unsatisfying and cloying attempt to return to a “good guys fight the bad guys because they’re good” message that didn’t jibe with the rest of the series. More importantly, it was a message so rote in superhero comics that it was not worth dragging Captain America’s name through mud for an entire event series where he’s a fascist dictator.
What strikes us as the most galling aspect of Secret Empire’s climax is, in its twee attempt to show the kind heart of the US public in the wake of being liberated from Hydra’s rule—that everything is all right now that Stevil Rogers is defeated—it completely ignores some key facts. Namely, that the same American public was shown in issues prior to be petrifyingly okay with a fascist ruler who helps keep the trains running on time, spreads propagandist fake history in schools, and, you know, rounds Inhumans up into internment camps. Addressing the American public’s complicity in its fascist, xenophobic government could have been fascinating, but it was a concept just too scary for Secret Empire to tackle; instead, it chose to take the easy way out. It was an ending that was poorly handled, fell flat on its face, and was thoroughly unearned. In that sense, it was perhaps a fitting end to one of Marvel’s most misguided stories in years.
Creative Team: Nick Spencer, Steve McNiven, David Marquez, Ron Lim, Rod Reis, Paco Medina, Jay Leisten, Juan Vlasco, Matthew Wilson, Jesus Aburtov
There are certain things, like toys and candy, that you expect to see advertised in comic books. There are other things, like war profiteering, that you do not. It’s difficult to say just what Marvel expected to come from its strategic partnership with weapons contractor Northrop Grumman earlier this year, but the publisher received its fair share of flack and backlash for its plans to publish a comic that was effectively meant to sell kids on the idea of working as part of the military industrial complex.
In the comic, the Avengers find themselves unable to take down a large robot on track to take out the world’s electrical grid; they can’t save the world without help from a team of pseudo-superheroes who work for Northrop Grumman, who show up in their mind-controlled drone fighter. As odd as the concept for the comic is in and of itself, what’s really unsettling about the story is just how propagandistic it is—going so far as to compare working for Northrop Grumman to actually becoming an Avenger (while completely ignoring the fact that Tony Stark got out of the weapons business a long time ago).
Creative Team: Fabian Niceiza, Sean Chen, and Walden Wood
DC’s Dark Nights: Metal is a huge, sweeping publisher-wide event that’s set to change the entire trajectory of the DC Comics multiverse, all while giving the Justice League some of its most formidable opponents yet: A squad of evil, murderous Batmen. As nifty as that all is, it’s worth reminding everyone that Metal all could have been completely avoided if Batman had just left well enough alone and stopped poking around in the Dark Multiverse in the first place.
There were multiple people who warned Batman—“Hey, dude. This seems like an ill-advised use of your time. Perhaps you might want to go beat up some criminals in Gotham?”—but apparently, Bruce can’t hear all that well through that cowl. Were it not for his meddling with forces far larger and more powerful than himself, Barbatos and the evil Batmen never would have reached up from the Dark Multiverse to plunge all of reality into chaos, but no. Bruce does what Bruce wants, and it’s up to everyone else to fix his mistakes.
Creative Team: James T Tynion IV, Scott Snyder, Andy Kubert, Jim Lee, Various, John Romita, Jr.